The next time somebody comes to your house and complains about the cat hair on your furniture, tell them that you leave it there for the sake of crime prevention. No, really. Do it! Here’s why.
The DNA gathered from cat fur recently helped British investigators to convict David Hilder of the murder of David Guy.
It wasn’t the only forensic evidence, of course — there were plenty of more traditional clues like traces of the victim’s blood at the perpetrator’s residence — but it certainly lays the groundwork for future use of feline DNA to add to the burden of proof against criminals. "This is the first time cat DNA has been used in a criminal trial in the U.K.," Jon Welton of the University of Leicester told the Associated Press.
The reason it was even possible to do so is because forensic scientists at the University of Leicester have compiled genetic data from 152 cats from across the United Kingdom. The investigators plan want to publish their data so it can be used in future criminal investigations.
The DNA found in the cat fur at the crime scene was mitochondrial DNA, which is passed only through the mother’s line. When you consider that unspayed female cats can have three litters a year averaging between three and six kittens each, you can see where this could be a problem when it comes to identifying specific cats.
However, thanks to the University of Leicester’s genetic database, it was possible to use that mitochondrial DNA to add to the prosecution’s case. Of all the samples in the database, only three matched the hairs found at the crime scene, which at least provided good odds that the samples were indeed from Hilder’s cat.
It’s not the first time animal fur has ever been used to convict a criminal, though. The Veterinary Genetics Lab at the University of California, Davis, has been assisting law enforcement agencies in the U.S. for more than 10 years.
Considering how ubiquitous cats are, both here in the United States and in the U.K., expanding the University of Leicester’s feline DNA database and building a similar one to be used in the U.S. could be a huge asset in the search for justice.
Clearly, cat DNA can’t convict anyone on its own. But if the "feline fur file" continues to grow, it’s quite possible that a cat’s DNA could someday be used to secure a conviction. It would be especially awesome if cat fur were to lead to the conviction of an animal abuser. That would totally be karma at work!
About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer, and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their cat advice column, Paws and Effect, since 2003. JaneA dreams of making a great living out of her love for cats.